Archive for February, 2016

Monday meta musings

Monday, February 29th, 2016


I think spammers visit Roundrock Journal more than regular readers. Or the spammers are more interested in leaving comments anyway. I get more than a thousand spam comments each day, and each day (mostly) I go in and clean them out.

The comments used to be in gibberish, somethings in other languages, even other alphabets and scripts. Lately, however, the comments have gotten coherent and even complimentary. Here’s a sampling:

  • “Yours is a clever way of thinking about it.”
  • “I’ve been looking for a post like this for an age.”
  • “I actually found this more entertaining than James Joyce.”
  • “This free sharing of information seems too good to be true. Like communism.”
  • “The truth just shines through your post.”
  • “We definitely need more smart people like you around.”
  • “Walking in the presence of giants here. Cool thinking all around!”
  • “Woot! I will certainly put this to good use.”
  • “I bow down humbly in the presence of such greatness.”

And so on.

I don’t know if someone sits down and writes these sentences or if they’re somehow generated by an evil algorithm or if perhaps they’re snatched from some existing text somewhere. They’re certainly better than the gibberish that was more common, but only because they’re intelligible. They’re not sincere, of course, since they never seem pertinent to the subject of the post they attempt to attach themselves to. Rather, I suspect they’re intended to endear themselves to the ego of the blog administrator so that they are allowed to remain, thus increasing the commenter’s presence online and pushing up hits on subsequent browser searches. (Lately, the most frequent spammer has been some car insurance quotes outfit.)

tea-colored water

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

lake water

I say the water in my lake is tea colored, and it looks that way from the shore, but here is a bottle of lake water I collected on my last visit to Roundrock. (Sorry the subject is out of focus, but the boards on the cabin are sharply defined!) I was surprised when I saw the actual color of the water. It’s a little brown-ish, but not so much.

I filled this clear bottle because I wanted to watch all of the particulates in the water settle to the bottom, leaving comparatively cleaner water above. Even after an overnight of settling, I didn’t see any sediment. I’m sure the water is teeming with microbes and natural particles, but without the aid of a microscope, I couldn’t see anything.

I had collected this water because I was going to dare myself to finally use a gift I’d received from my daughter and son-in-law (and grandson).


Inside this package is a filtering straw that is supposed to make dirty water drinkable. All I had to do was open the packet, slip the straw into the bottle, and have a sip. (Well, more than that. Apparently the straw has to be primed with clean water. I’m not sure if it must be primed with each use or not, but if you had the clean water each time to do the priming, why would you need the straw? And then it’s supposed to be rinsed after each use, presumably with clean water.)

What could possibly go wrong? Aside from acquiring brain-eating microbes or lifelong dysentery, right?

The filtering straw remains unwrapped.

a sequence of events

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016


If a tree falls in my forest, but it falls away from the cabin, does anyone hear me as I breathe an audible sigh of relief?

When we got down to Roundrock last weekend, I found this snapped tree near the cabin. (You can see the separated part on the ground, at about 5:00 in this photo.) This tree, a Blackjack Oak, stood very near the cabin. The tree was tall enuf that if it had fallen in the other direction, it would have struck the roof of the porch. I don’t think it was heavy enuf to have caused any damage, but I’m grateful for how it fell nonetheless.

I wonder if there is some cycle to tree deaths. It seemed for a couple of years that many of the red oaks were dying. And now there are three Blackjack Oaks near the cabin that are clearly dead. (Fortunately, the other two are far enuf away from the cabin to miss it should they fall.) Is this the year for Blackjack Oaks to face a natural culling?

With a long, mostly straight oak on the forest floor in handy reach, I got to work on it with my hand saw and soon turned it into this:


Later that evening, I then turned it into this:


And still later into this:


And so the sequence was complete.

looking down

Monday, February 22nd, 2016


We had a very nice weekend at Roundrock (actually, arrival late in the morning on Saturday, an overnight in the cabin, and then a late morning departure on Sunday). The forecasted temperature was to be in the 70s (in February! in Missouri!), with an overnight low in the upper 40s, so we pretty much had to go. The dogs also approved the idea.

While there, and amidst having done many other things, we received a visit from Good Neighbor Brian, who hadn’t been down to his adjoining property much in the last two years. But he said he was going to be down there a bit more in the coming weeks because he needed to clean it up . . . in order to sell it. Brian has been our neighbor for nearly as long as we have been stomping around our land. Because of some significant changes in his personal life, he no longer had the same dreams for his property that he’d originally had. He’d found several other rural places, which already had homes on them, that were more suited to his new life, and he wanted to take the next step.

We’d had a couple of cookouts at his place, and we did some general visiting and such, but there was only one time that Libby and I had ventured onto his property to wander his woods (with his open and ongoing permission). We were in search of something I had seen listed on a map of the greater property that Roundrock is carved from.

Aside from some broken-down fences wending through the forest and a corral (plus a few feeding stations that have long since burned down) there really is no evidence of the days when this property was a huge cattle ranch. (Okay, I have found some cow bones in my woods.) And beyond that, I’ve never found any sign of what prior inhabitants had once used the land for. Yet on that map was a tantalizing reference to a cistern on Good Neighbor Brian’s property. That implied a homestead or at least some structure that would need to have a reliable supply of water. Brian’s land is all on the ridgetop, so standing and flowing water would not have been found in the old days. (He now has a pond that comes and goes with the weather.)

And the cistern was what we were seeking that one time we wandered his woods, though we never did find it. Yet with Brian’s news that he was selling the land, we wanted to make a second push to see it, should the opportunity never come to us again.

And so on Sunday morning, after our bracing breakfast of oatmeal and fruit (and hot tea, unsweetened, of course), we took ourselves over there and ventured in what I hoped was the right direction based on a map I had looked at probably more than a decade before. Brian had made the goal a little more attainable by raising orange hazard fencing around the cistern. I figured it would be easy to spot given that the leaves were all gone in the forest.

He has a beautiful bit of forest with many mature trees and just enuf undulation to the land to make it interesting. Bisecting his forest, from the south to the north, is an old barbed wire fence, and when we met up with that, we first thought that we had reach his farther property line. It guided our exploration for a while, but it didn’t feel right, and it certainly wasn’t something we had encountered on our earlier ramble maybe a decade before. So we found a break in the fence and continued our quest. As I remembered from the map, the cistern would have been about in the center of his property (60 or so acres). Based on my purely intuitional reckoning, we still had some hoofing to do to get to that point. Fortunately, Brian had made it a little easier for us. He had cut a rough track through his woods that he presumably used with his ATV (though his small truck could fit as well). My guess was that this track lead somewhere and why not to or at least near that cistern? So we followed that, which Queequeg appreciated since the little guy sometimes has trouble finding his way through the low scrub.

I was looking for the orange hazard fencing; a cistern is otherwise a hole in the ground and thus not evident on a visual scan of the forest ahead. We hiked and doubted ourselves, not even certain that we were truly on Brian’s property given that fence we’d encountered. But it felt right, so we ventured on. And then I did see the orange fencing through the trees. That track we were on did lead in the right direction.

I didn’t know what to expect. The only cisterns I knew were concrete cubes buried beside farmhouses. Whatever this was probably predated modern concrete. We approached the fence cautiously, fearful that the ground might give way or that one of the dogs might be too curious and fall in.

What you see above is what we saw below our feet. Intriguing. Interesting. It looked to be about 10 feet deep. There were some puddles in the bottom (hence the reflected blue sky), but it was otherwise dry. Two large branches had fallen in, which I suppose were handy for any critters that might have fallen in. And look at those stones that make up the wall! Laid down by some hand long since gone from this earth. To some important purpose now also gone. The only evidence remaining of past lives lived and ended. An eloquent remnant that simultaneously keeps its secrets. I looked around the area, trying to see some feature on the forest floor that might suggest an old structure, but I saw nothing. The cistern was all there was to be seen.

Good Neighbor Brian had visited us a second time that weekend (before we had hiked his land) to tell us that we would not be having new neighbors. He’d spoken earlier of someone “crunching the numbers” to see if he could afford the property and that he would meet with Brian that day. The meeting had taken place, and Brian had come by to give us an update.

No, we would not have new neighbors, but only because the man who did buy his property that day was one of our existing neighbors. Good Neighbor Craig (who owns 40 acres south of us) had crunched the numbers and met Brian’s price. So assuming the bank agrees, Good Neighbor Craig will be the landowner south and west of us. (It happens that Craig is the son-in-law of Good Neighbor Tom who’s place is about a mile and a half from ours — I know this because I’ve run it — and who is pretty much the mover and shaker of our little rural community as well as a nice guy.) Craig’s intent is to run cattle on the property, and he’s been preparing the land he already owns to do that. Now he’ll have much more for the effort.

I hope that he’ll simply fence off the cistern on not actually fill it. I realize he has to protect his future cattle from its peril, and the land will be his to do with as he wishes (that’s why all of us have property down there), so this will be something to watch for.

finished phoebe nest

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

phoebe 1

We’ve had a phoebe nest built on the cabin porch for several years now. The fact that the phoebe (though maybe not the same one) keeps coming back speaks well of my stewardship intentions (or the value of the porch roof). Last spring/summer we found three clutches of eggs in the nest, and one time we found four chicks in the nest from one clutch.

Two summers ago, when the nesting season was long over, I had knocked down the nest. But I wondered if that might have been a mistake. Would the phoebe use the same nest in the next year if it was available?

So last summer I did not take down the nest. It has become such a normal feature of the porch that I hardly notice it when I visit. But on our most recent trip to Roundrock, I did notice it because it was falling apart.

Presumably phoebe repairs the nest throughout the season to keep it strong. Now that she is gone the nest is on its own, though even that didn’t look to be the case. There were fresh droppings in the porch floor below the nest. Some other bird appears to have been roosting on the nest and perhaps that bird’s weight (on landing or departing?) has been enuf to damage the nest.

So I took it down. Reluctantly, but when I had done it two summers ago, the phoebe had no trouble building a whole new one from scratch.

phoebe 2

I’m long overdue for oiling the exterior of the cabin. Every time I scare up enuf motivation to look into it, the price of the treatment scares me back into lethargy. But I really should at least stain the porch in the time it is free of the phoebe nest, right?

Phoebe is welcome to build her nest every year, whether I get the staining done or not.

the reckoning ~ 2015

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

round rock

Normally I write this post in January, giving a thrilling account of all of my visits to Roundrock in the last year. This requires that I have the information on the wall calendar hanging in the cabin. And although I did venture out to my woods on January 2 of the new year, I forgot to bring home the calendar. And it wasn’t until the end of January that I was able to return and, this time, remember to collect the calendar.

My visits were less frequent than in past years. A large part of that is due to the arrival of my first grandchild, who required visiting and who in turn visited. Weekends when I might have snuck off to my cabin were often claimed by him and his helpers. And then there’s all that running I was doing. But let’s see how 2015 shaped up.

January ~ Not a single visit? Is this even possible? Apparently it is true.

February ~ Not a single visit? Is this even possible? Apparently it is true.

March ~ If I count my two visits in March toward the two months of deficits, that leaves March without a visit of its own. Curiously, one of these two visits was on a Monday. Looking back at my old posts here I’ve learned that I had that Monday free because I had taken the day off to visit my mother in Kentucky. Then that visit fell through (bad weather in Kentucky) and I had a free Monday. My second visit in March was on the 29th, the last Sunday of the month.

April ~ Another anemic month with only one visit the entire 30 days. That still leaves me with a one-month deficit.

May ~ Yikes! Again, only one visit. I remember that I was running a half marathon series around this time: three half marathons in five weeks, so that meant many weekends were spent running or recovering or attending to other rude realities of life that called for my attention.

June ~ Again, only one visit, but we swam in the lake this time. I’m sure the water was still cold after a few inches below the surface, but I’m also sure we were glad to get in and splash around. (This turned out to be the only time in all of 2015 when we swam in our lake.)

July ~ And July catches me up. I made two visits. The first was on Friday, July 3, when I suppose I had a holiday from work. And then the next visit was the following weekend, on the 11th.

August ~ Another twofer. I’m ahead by one visit. I managed to get down to Roundrock on August 1, which was the first Saturday of the month, and then again on August 22. Oddly, no overnights yet.

September ~ Just one visit, on the 19th. Sigh.

October ~ A big month. Not only was there that little marathon I ran (on the 17th), but we visited Roundrock twice, and one of those visits was an overnight. We bracketed the marathon by going out the Sunday before and the weekend after. I’m sure I was nervous the Sunday before, wondering if that would be the last time I visited my woods before dying on the course. And I’m sure I was sore the weekend after. I had also given up beer for 2015, so even though we had a campfire, I couldn’t sit around it and stay hydrated.

November ~ Just one visit, on the 7th. Maybe the weather kept me home. Or the holiday and visiting. Maybe other responsibilities. I know I wasn’t running much in November since the marathon pretty much wrecked my legs.

December ~ One visit again. On the 5th. Little did I know at the time that three weeks later I would have a second grandchild, a granddaughter, who would lay claim to my free days as well.

So 2015 was a lean year for Roundrock visits. Fourteen visits in all. Only one overnight. Only one dip in the lake. Only two campfires that I can recall. It was what it was. 2016 is shaping up much the same, but there’s still time to correct the course. Stay tuned.


Monday, February 15th, 2016


On my last visit to Roundrock, we had taken a ramble on the south side of the lake, and our feet lead us all the way to the Old Man of the Forest, which stands close to our southern property line. I had marked that line to the best of my humble ability with steel fence posts, set along what I consider a good-faith path through a dense, rising and falling forest between two given (surveyed) points a quarter mile apart. (Also, I schlepped those posts and the post driver to this remotest part of my woods over several trips.)

On one of those posts I had bolted a bluebird house, in part to make the post more visible and in part because why not? When I’ve checked on this house during the warmer times of the year, I’ve been greeted by wasps who have made it their home for several years. The last few times I found what you see above, bits of moss and cedar bark that look like they would make a soft and warm hideaway for some small forest critter, perhaps a flying squirrel. There is another birdhouse not too far from the cabin that is packed with similar duff, and one time when I peeked in, I found a gray tree frog in (probably temporary) residence.

I’m always tempted to clean this stuff out of the birdhouses when I find it, but then I consider that this might be a winter refuge for whatever critter took the trouble to pack it thus, and I don’t want to take that away. So I benignly neglect the housekeeping chore.

Curious in this case is the corpse of the carpenter bee in the top left. Did it come here on its own? Is it the prey of whatever critter calls this box home? Was it inadvertently packed in with the rest of the moss when it was delivered?

Wordless Wednesday ~ peanut

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016


Happy Birthday, Peanut!

troublesome, terminal trees

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016


These big trees stand just down the hill from the cabin, and at full pool, the lake laps at their trunks. There are actually only two trees here, though it does look like there are three trunks. I think they are hackberries. (I really ought to confirm that some day.)

These trees are slowly dying. It seems like every spring, another large branch doesn’t bring out any leaves. Shelf fungus emerges from several places. Sometimes, we find a fallen branch on the ground or, if we’re unlucky, in the lake (and have to tug it out, often on the end of a fishing line).

I’m not in love with these trees. When the dozer man built the lake (more than a decade ago), he had cleared all of the trees along this shoreline (south facing) except this pair. At the time they stood out and looked dramatic. In the time since, the trees behind them have reached out for the sunlight and have closed the distance to the hackberries. In the leafy season these trees no longer stand out and look dramatic.

I worry that some visit I’ll find one or both of these fallen into the lake, making them a navigation hazard for swimming as well as essentially impossible to get out. I’ve thought a few times that when the lake hits its August low level, and the area directly below them is dry, I should cut them down under such a controlled situation, so I can cut them up and haul the firewood out of the dryish lakebed and up to the fire ring. I could even cut the stumps high enuf so that they would be handy for sitting on when casting a line.

That would require me to get the chainsaw repaired, of course. And I have a lot of time before August.

incident on a plane

Monday, February 8th, 2016

So I flew to Oregon last week (to make the acquaintance of my new granddaughter) and experienced a little excitement on the way. Our plane was still airborne, about a half hour outside of Portland, when a man came walking down the aisle. He passed me, and soon after I heard people shouting “Get him!” and “Don’t let his head hit the floor!” Then I felt this man fall against my shoulder on his sudden trip to the floor. (Would it be the “deck” on an airplane the same way a wall is a “bulkhead”?)

So there the man lay, in the aisle right by my seat, his eyes rolling back in his head as he groaned and moaned. He was a big, powerfully built man along the lines of a football player. Suddenly people were up and crowding around the man. (As much as you can crowd up in an airplane aisle.) One young fellow actually leapt over him and then knelt beside the man’s head to hold it. Turns out the aircraft was filled with nurses. At least a half dozen were there on the spot, acting and speaking authoritatively, but since the space was so limited, it was only the young man kneeling there and the young woman at the man’s feet who could actually administer any care. Even the flight attendants — for whom this kind of thing must be as close to a professional nightmare as it gets — couldn’t get near the man. The man drifted in and out of awareness, sometimes answering the nurse’s questions, sometimes not. A bag of ice was called for. A cup of water. An announcement went over the address system calling for any medical professionals to come forward, which they pretty much couldn’t since they already had.

Eventually a man who identified himself as a doctor was able to push his way through the many, many nurses jammed in the aisle, and he took the place of the male nurse who had gotten their first. This was all right beside my seat, so I was able to listen as the care was given.

The fallen man was questioned about his medical history, and his answers came sporadically. No, he was not diabetic. No, he had no heart condition or any other problems. No, he was taking no medications. He gave his name when asked, but I think everyone missheard him because he tried correcting people several times as they repeated it. (They called him “Dan” but from what I could tell, his name was “Dain.”) The doctor had the man grip his own fingers and then try as hard as he could to pull his arms away from each other. The doctor had sized up the situation quickly (and correctly it turned out) that the fallen man had had a sudden, precipitous loss in blood pressure. Apparently, this effort to pull his arms apart while gripping his fingers would elevate his blood pressure. The man couldn’t do it though, in part because he was still somewhat delirious and in part because he had no room in that narrow aisle to maneuver his arms very well. Soon a blood pressure cuff was presented (because I suppose that kind of thing can come in handy on long flights in planes full of all kinds of people), but the man’s beefy arm was too big for it. The nurse had to ask the doctor to hold the cuff shut around the man’s arm as she took the reading. After several tries they were able to confirm that the man’s blood pressure was dangerously low.

The fallen man, by this time, was no longer interested in being the center of attention, and said he just wanted to get up and go to the bathroom, which was his original goal when he came down the aisle. The doctor would have none of that though and commanded the man to stay on the floor (deck?) and perhaps raise his knees if he could. Several passengers in nearby seats helped him do this, and the man reported that he almost instantly felt better. Then the doctor asked the nurse at the man’s feet to lift his legs. This nurse was a tiny person, and I imagine lifting and holding up the legs of this large man was a challenge. But in my observation, nurses are up for the challenge. When she did this, the man again reported that he felt a lot better. The doctor took this as a sign that his original assessment had been correct, and when they took the man’s blood pressure again, it had elevated to a better level. The doctor cautiously asked the man if he thought he could get himself into a seat, which the man felt he could, and the passenger across the aisle from me quickly volunteered his seat for the man. Getting this large, unsteady man easily into the small seat was a challenge the flight attendants were up for. One told the doctor to raise the armrest on the aisle seat just surrendered by the passenger. This is the aisle arm rest, not the one between the seats. I didn’t know you could raise this, and neither did the doctor who fumbled with the attempt. Finally, the flight attendant authoritatively barked to the doctor “Look at me. Watch me.” She then demonstrated on a nearby seat where to find the secret latch that allowed the arm rest to be raised. (Now I know how to do this too.)

By the time they got the man into this seat, the crisis was over. Even I could see how recovered he was. The doctor spoke at length with the flight attendants, who were filling out some forms and asking questions. And then the captain’s voice came over the address system, asking us all to be patient after we landed since the stricken man would be visited by EMTs and then escorted off the plane before any of us would be allowed to leave. By this time the man was mostly over the attack and was joking about how this was his secret way of getting off planes before everyone else and how it worked with every airline. (I noted that he never did get to visit the bathroom.)

After I got off the plane and into the terminal, I saw the man sitting on a gurney, surrounded by EMTs and security people. He looked dazed, but otherwise I think he was okay. I later saw him on his own at baggage claim, I suspect more stricken with embarrassment than anything else any longer.

Later, when I left the terminal, in search of a cab, I saw the two nurses who had first attended the man. (Apparently they were a couple.) I asked the man if he had any hesitation, literally leaping into a situation like that. He said he had none at all, that while he had no moral or legal obligation, he would have felt horrible if he hadn’t acted as he did, without hesitation.

My son and daughter-in-law — my new granddaughter’s parents — are both doctors, and they confirmed that they would have done the same.